Iranian writer Faraj Sarkuhi is being tried on charges of espionage,the head of the Judiciary Branch, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, confirmed ata Tehran news conference on June 24. Sarkuhi's brothers later told reportersthat the trial had began the day before. If convicted, Sarkuhi could facethe death penalty. [IRNA 6/24]
European governments, French newspaper editors, and international humanrights organizations have all said they will monitor the trial to ensureSarkuhi is allowed fair representation.
"Despite the reported charges, we believe that Faraj Sarkouhi maybe a prisoner of conscience, who has not used or advocated violence andwho is held purely for political reasons," Amnesty International said."If this is the case, he should be released immediately and unconditionally."
Amnesty attempted to send a delegate to attend the trial in May, butwas told by the Iranian Foreign Ministry "it was not an appropriatetime" for an Amnesty International delegation to visit Iran. The organizationhas been barred from fact-finding missions in Iran by the government since1979. [Amnesty statement 6/24]
Sarkuhi's wife, Farideh Zebarjad, is currently in the United States,and spoke to supporters at American University in Washington DC on June27. She also spoke at the Institute for Policy Studies, and was interviewedby the Farsi Service of the Voice of America, to explain her husband'scase.
In her presentation at American University, Mrs. Sarkuhi said that whileher husband was in custody late last year his jailers contacted her inBerlin, where she lives with their two children, pretending to be personswho wanted to help Sarkuhi to flee the country and asking her for money.Although she said she suspected it was a hoax, she sent money anyway asthey instructed, but never heard any results. She was also told by herhusband's brother, Ismail, that his last arrest took place when he wasreporting in person to the Ministry of Intelligence, as he was requiredto do on a weekly basis. Contrary to statements by the regime, he was notseeking to leave the country illegally. [FDI 6/27]
A dramatic upsurge in arrests, which the regime claims are mainly drug-related,has increased Iran's prison population by more than 25% over the past 12months, according to figures just released by the head of the State Organizationof Prisons, Security, and Rehabilitation Affairs, Asadollah Lajaverdi.
A total of 138,000 persons were in Iranian jails at the beginning ofthe Iranian Year on March 21, Lajaverdi said, up from 110,000 persons theprevious year, for an increase of 25.5%. Of that total, some 6,750 wereforeign nationals - mainly Afghans, he said. 106,000 persons were servingterms or were under pre-trial detention on charges of drug addiction, drugdealing, and drug smuggling, he added; 41,000 of them had not yet goneto trial. Lajaverdi, who is sometimes known as "Jallad-e Evin"(the butcher of Evin) since he doubles as the head of Tehran's dreadedEvin prison, was speaking with reporters to commemorate "JudiciaryWeek."
Lajaverdi blamed illiteracy as "one of the biggest factors forcriminal behavior," noting that 27,000 of those detained were illiteratewhile many others were "poorly educated." [IRIB 6/15]
Salam newspaper commented on Lajaverdi's yearly presentation on theIslamic Republic's prison system with a report on overcrowding, which itsays has led to the conversion of prison classrooms, sports clubs, andmosques into inmate cells. Inmates aged between 26 and 32 years of ageform the largest single group of inmates jailed on drug-related offenses,the paper said. 29,180 inmates fell into this age group, of whom 1,041were women. [Salam 6/16]
The State broadcasting network added two days later that the ExpediencyCouncil, now headed by outgoing president Hashemi-Rafsanjani, recentlyincreased sentencing guidelines ten fold for drug-related crimes, as partof its effort to combat illicit drugs. [IRIB 6/18]
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran has regularlysought information on persons incarcerated on drug offenses, since theIslamic Republic authorities have long been suspected of using trumped-upcharges of drug smuggling as a means of jailing political opponents, especiallyfrom Iranian Balouchistan.
A 38-year old American black Muslim, Yousef Morris Jr., has been arrestedafter he illegally entered Iran from Pakistan, foreign ministry spokesmanMahmood Mohammadi disclosed on June 25. "His case is similar to thousandsof others... A verdict will be issued soon." Officials from the SwissEmbassy have met with Morris three times. The American prisoner "isbeing treated well and has contacted his family," Mohammadi said.The Foreign Ministry did not say when Morris had entered Iran, or how longhe had been under arrest. [Reuter 6/25]
Following intense public pressure in the wake of the Mykonos verdict,on June 13 the Austrian Foreign Ministry released a 96-page report includingcontemporaneous files on the 1989 assassination of Kurdish leader AbdulrahmanQassemlou and two colleagues in Vienna. Even though the released filescontain no direct evidence that Austria deliberately let the suspectedkillers flee the country, they show that Thomas Klestil, then secretarygeneral of the Foreign Ministry, and former Foreign Minister Alois Mockwere kept informed on a regular basis of the police investigation and relateddevelopments.
The files show that in the days following the murders, the Iranian ambassadorto Vienna badgered the Foreign Ministry almost every day to get the presumedkillers released, while the Austrian Embassy in Tehran cabled Vienna thatclear threats to Austrian interests were being made. One of these cables,flagged to Klestil, warned that "hostile operations against Austrianinterests, also outside Kurdistan, possibly in Austria, cannot be ruledout." As a precaution, the Foreign Ministry asked the United Nationsto withdrawn Austrian peace keepers then serving with the UN in the Kurdisharea in Iran. [Vienna Die Presse 6/14-15]
An prestigious Iranian Kurdish writer, Kalimullah Tawahudi, who disappearedin 1996, has now been sentenced to 24 months in jail in the city of Mashad,according to the Human Rights Alliance, a non-profit group based in Fairfax,Virginia. Tawahudi was charged with "propagating non-Islamic lies,"the group said.
Tawahudi, now 70, is the retired director of the University Libraryof Mashad, and has spent 30 years researching the forced relocation ofKurdish tribes 400 years ago from Iranian Kurdistan to Khorasan provincein eastern Iran, where today an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Kurds live.
Four volumes of his research, entitled The Kurdish Movement in Khorasan,"have been published, while the fifth has been seized by the municipal authoritiesin Mashad. After his arrest, Tawahudi's files were reportedly confiscatedfrom his home. According to Human Rights Watch, the Shiite clergy in Mashadhave referred to Mr. Tawahudi as the "Salman Rushdie of Khorasan"in Friday prayer sermons.
The group called on the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran to "act immediatelyand urgently" on Mr. Tawahudi's behalf. [Human Rights Alliance pressrelease, 6/20/97]
Nateq Nouri supporters are insisting that no cabinet portfolios shouldgo to Rafsanjani supporters from the G6 (Kargozaran-e Sazandegi , or Supportersof Reconstruction),
Majlis Deputy Ali Mohavedi Savoji, a member of the Article 10 Commissionwhich issues permits for political groups, dismissed the G6 for having"failed to perform well in executive" and for having "usedgovernment facilities and their official positions for political purposesduring the presidential and the Fifth Majlis elections."
Asked to comment on the possible nomination of Mohsen Nurbakhsh as ministerof finance and economy, Savoji said: "This is in no way a good choice.Even though he is a specialist, he has not been successful, even at theCentral Bank of Iran."
Alluding to the intention of the G6 to form a political party, Savojisaid such a move would trigger a background check of the group's members"from political, judicial, and information [intelligence] sources.Then their manifesto and principles will be studied" to ensure theyare "commensurate with the law." Only then, he said, would theybe approved. Savoji's comments came in the wake of statements by the G-6that they were intended to form a new party
Savoji called on Khatemi to adopt "a supra-factional approach"in selecting cabinet members, and to retain Ali Akbar Velayati as foreignminister. "Anyone else would have to undergo a four-year trainingperiod to master global policies," he said. [Iran News 6/10]
G6 member Ataollah Mohajerani told Iran News that the group was posing"no conditions" on its participation in the Khatemi cabinet,and hoped to have its application to operate as a fully-fledged politicalparty approved in September. [Iran News 6/28]
The English-language Iran Times reported on June 16 that Khatemi wasconsidering appointing one of two women to his cabinet. Possible candidateswere Fatimeh Ramazan Zadeh and Ghodsieh Seyed Alavi, both of whom are MajlisDeputies. They are being eyed for the Public Health portfolio [6/16]
Salam, which supported Khatemi during the elections but which is closeto defeated candidate Mohammad Reyshari, wrote that Khatemi's cabinet wouldinclude "new faces" drawn from university and cultural circles.[6/17]. The paper earlier chastised supporters of Nateq-Nouri for seekingto get members of his faction appointed to cabinet posts. "Why shouldpeople who made the toughest personal attacks on Mr. Khatemi before theelection now be appointed to his cabinet?" [6/16]
On June 18, Khatemi traveled to Qom for a round of visits and negotiationswith high-ranking clerics, including those close to Nateq-Nouri and SupremeLeader Ali Khamene'i. In separate meetings, he consulted with AyatollahFazel Lankarani, Ayatollah Mousavi Ardabili, and Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani.After the meetings, he made a public speech to Qom religious students,stating that his government would "do our best to achieve the goalsof the revolution under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamene'i." [RadioTehran 6/18]
Khatemi's trip to Qom came as the conservative daily Resalat, whichis owned by Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i, observed in an editorial thatthe ten million voters who voted for Nateq-Nouri "also have rights,"and that Mr. Khatemi was "being selfish by not observing the rightsof his opponents." [Resalat 6/18]
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who is deputy prayer leader in Tehran, calledon Muslim governments to sever ties with Washington to protest the U.S.Congressional resolution calling for the transfer of the U.S. embassy fromTel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In his second sermon to Friday prayer worshipers at Tehran UniversityAyatollah Jannati said holy Qods was the first qibla of Muslims and addedthat Washington and the Zionist regime do not seem to be the least concernedabout the feelings of the Muslim nations. [Iran News 6/28]
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i vowed during a ceremony markingthe anniversary of the death of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeinithat Iran has no need to export its Islamic revolution.
The remark was buried away in an otherwise hard-line speech at Khomeini'stomb, in which Khamene'i vowed that the Islamic Republic "will nevergive in to enemies even for an hour."
"The Iranian people will work hard toward perfection, prosperity,knowledge and sciences," Khamene'i said. Khamene'i also evoked Iran'syouth, who voted massively against the regime's hand-picked candidate inthe May 23, criticizing the regime of the former Shah for "ignoringthe fate of youth and completely ignoring people's will." [Radio Tehran6/4]
The latest entrant into the controversy over "moderates" andanti-Western "radicals" in Iran is probably unknown to most ofour readers: he is Faiz Siddiqi, the rector of Britain's Hejaz University,who was visiting Iran to take part in ceremonies commemorating the eighthanniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Mr. Siddiqi was asked by the Tehran Times whether he agreed with theanalysis prevalent among many Western observers that the presidential electionpitted a relative "moderate" against a conservative. He did not."I think this viewpoint comes from ignorance, of not understandingIslam," he said. "You cannot be a moderate Muslim. You are eithera Muslim or not a Muslim." Western observers had committed a "fallacy"in their interpretation of Khatemi's election. "They wrongly assumethat Khatemi's coming is like Gorbachev's coming in Russia."
Referring to the icy relations between Iran and the United States, Siddiqicalled them a historical "tension between truth and falsehood. Forevery Pharaoh there will be a Moses. And for the Pharaoh of today, whichis the United States, there will have to be a Moses. I believe the lameImam Khomeini's views enlightened the world Muslims as to the way theyshould react to the arrogant powers. I think the American officials cannotunderstand the depth of the Islamic culture which the Islamic Republicof Iran aims to disseminate."
Asked about the European Union, Siddiqi called them "a better devil,because Europe has a culture, has a tradition and a history. Therefore,the American officials feel vulnerable and are frightened of any interactionbetween Iran and European Union.... I think Germany can be the best allyfor Iran," although he said France and Britain came in a close second.[Tehran Times, 6/18]
The manager of an Iranian firm, Hossein Dowlatkhah, was sentenced todeath by the 11th branch of the Islamic Revolution court, on charges of"swindling and hoodwinking 7,000 depositors and bilking their capital."He was accused of having established "a swindling band, plunderingpeople's properties, beguiling people, and issuing thousands of bouncedchecks."
The court termed him "corrupt on earth," a term used in thepast to designate supporters of the former Shah. In addition to the deathsentenced, they ordered the confiscation of the businessman's property"in kind or in cash." His appeal will now be referred to theSupreme Court.
Dowlatkhah was charged will having pocketed 88 billion rials (around$29.4 million). In addition to execution, the court also ordered that hebe whipped - presumably before the hangman's noose. [IRNA 6/19]
A well-known Islamic scholar living in Germany, Dr. Mehdi Haeri, toldan interviewer with Radio Israel's Farsi service recently that the SpecialCourt of the Clergy has established its own intelligence service, to keeptabs on sedition within the ranks of Iran's Shiite clergy.
Dr. Haeri, who had been jailed by the Islamic Republic before goinginto exile, called the Special Court of the Clergy "a notorious judicialand oppressive machine which is harassing clerics throughout the country."The Court "has its own intelligence service with around ten thousandpersonnel," he alleged, and "reports directly to the SupremeLeader," Ayatollah Khamene'i. [Radio Israel 6/14]
Another step toward the enactment of tough new penalties against politicalopponents was taken on June 22, when the Majlis approved the general outlinesof the Islamic Punishment Law, which has been under discussion for sometime.
While many details still must be debated in Parliament, the bill asit now stands has 13 chapters and 496 articles, which require harsh punishment- including death sentences - for dozens of ordinary and political crimes.
The new law codifies extradition procedures for Iranians arrested overseasand delivered to the Islamic Republic authorities by foreign governments,and authorizes the government to track down political dissidents livingabroad (although it does not specifically state the government is authorizedto assassinate them). In an unusual measure, the new law also empowersthe government to punish foreign nationals who have committed crimes inforeign countries "and are consequently arrested in Iran or deliveredto the government by a foreign government."
Foreign nationals can be punished for the following acts, accordingto the new law:
1) Action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, against the domesticand national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and against thesovereignty or independence of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
2) Falsification or fraud relating to the handwriting, seal, or signatureof the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
3) Falsification or fraud relating to official writings of the President,Majlis speaker, Head of the Council of Guardians, Head of the Majlis Khebregan,the Vice Presidents, the Head of the Judicial Branch, and the Head of theDiwan-e Aly-e Keshvar.
4) Falsification or fraud of currency or banking documents. [Radio Tehran6/22]